Monday, July 4, 2011

BJP-Divided and Ruled Out / The Sunday Standard/July 03,2011

When the BJP’s holy hope in Uttar Pradesh, Uma Bharati, was welcomed back on stage formally by party President Nitin Gadkari in Delhi on June 7— after a vanvaas of 16 years—there were no fireworks.

It was left to Gadkari, architect of her return, to greet the sanyasin with sweets. Bharati was specifically brought back into the fold to take on the redoubtable Mayawati who seems invincible mainly because the BSP has no credible opposition. For the BJP, which is preparing its electoral strategy for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections will be a harbinger of fate.

At last month’s party executive meet held in Lucknow, Kalraj Mishra was appointed chairman of the Campaign Committee after much haggling between warring groups. Rajnath Singh, who has a strong Thakur mass base, was ignored completely—at one point he walked on to the stage uninvited, to make a sardonic point. Bharati inherits a legacy of communications failure between state leaders supported by nepotic national chieftains; the BJP has no strategy in Uttar Pradesh to build a caste phalanx of Rajputs, Brahmins, backward castes and Dalits to counter the upper caste-dominated Congress, the Dalit-led BSP and the Muslim- Yadav combination of the Samajwadi Party. The sanyasin’s skills at political Sudoku will be tested sorely in the state; she has to balance the numbers between Delhi and Lucknow when it comes to possible candidates. The BJP’s cadres favour Rajnath, Mishra, Bharati and Swami Chinmayanand. Varun Gandhi is in great demand among the party’s youth; a fact that has nettled sections of the central leadership. So much for a winning strategy! There are other state elections around the bend—Gujarat, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa. War cries are heard within the BJP; but unfortunately, it is the sound of fury of saffron overlords battling each other.

Fighting to lose it all

The central leadership on the other hand seems busy consuming large quantities of the party symbol, the lotus. In history, leaders change in every institution and new groups are born. Institutions that succeed do not cast earlier mentors into political winter, especially in a summer of discontent— mainly because experience guides enthusiasm. Mysteriously, the BJP headquarters has discarded the authors of the party’s popular, ideological and strategic prominence— Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh and Arun Shourie. Once a party of titans, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was never afraid to speak his mind and encouraged a spirit of civilised dissent within the party, these senior leaders have been sidelined because they refuse to be part of any group and possess independent minds. Gadkari’s biggest challenge is how to manage the cabals within. In Delhi, the duel between the two Opposition Leaders in Parliament—Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj—continue to cause discomfort in the party rank and file. Political hostilities in Maharashtra went national when the BJP’s Deputy Leader of the Opposition Gopinath Munde rebelled against party chief Gadkari—an old Maharashtra hand—only to arrive at an uneasy truce.

The stateside mess

In the states, the din of conflict gets louder as the shadow war within the party becomes kamikaze theatre. In Rajasthan, where Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s image is substrata, L K Advani’s favourite Vasundhara Raje is being sniped at by Arun Chaturvedi, a Rajnath acolyte. In Uttar Pradesh, Rajnath and Mishra who is supported by Jaitley are locked in battle, leaving room for the Congress to conserve its energy to attack Mayawati.

In Uttarakhand, Advani supporter Bhagat Singh Koshiyari and Rajnath confidant Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank are at war. In Bihar, where the BJP shares power with the JD(U), Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi is being sabotaged by C P Thakur who claims Rajnath’s backing.

The situation in Jharkhand is tragic comedy—Advani’s candidate for chief minister was Sinha, but Gadkari cast his vote in favour of Arjun Munda. The differences in the party became apparent when former party President Murli Manohar Joshi described the developments as a “theatre of the absurd”.

In Himachal Pradesh, the old rivalry between titans Prem Kumar Dhumal and Shanta Kumar continue unabated.

In Gujarat, loyalists of Advani and Swaraj are propping up Harin Pathak against Narendra Modi. Sanjay Joshi, former BJP national general secretary who was sidelined after a sex scandal, might return to the party—a move seen in party circles as clipping Modi’s wings. Gadkari and company reportedly favour Joshi’s return to active politics. Not a Modi favourite, Joshi claims support from large sections of the party.

In Karnataka, where Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa keeps winning election after election in spite of corruption charges, combat with Ananth Kumar continues nonstop. Once Yeddyurappa even attacked his bête noire with a chair in rage. Many groups operate within the state BJP: the Bellary Reddy brothers lead a gang of MLAs from Bellary while state party president K S Eshwarappa’s group is RSS-backed.

In Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress is in shreds, Shivraj Singh Chouhan sees Bharati as a contender for his well-administered chair. The Delhi state BJP is a battlefield on which Gadkari-backed Vijay Goel has been fighting Jaitley groupie Vijender Gupta.

In Punjab, where the BJP is a ruling alliance partner, it is demoralised by corruption scandals and the internecine strife between Manoranjan Kalia, a Swaraj follower and Tikshan Sood who is a Jaitley cohort. The enmity between Navjot Singh Siddhu and Avinash Rai Khanna is seen as an example of distrust between Jaitley and the RSS in Punjab. In Jammu and Kashmir, infighting became public after MLAs were expelled for cross-voting. In Orissa, the BJP seems to have thrown away the tribal advantage after former Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram was chosen over Dharmendra Pradhan as party chief. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is relieved at the cracks within the BJP, the BJD’s former partner. Oram is now at loggerheads with the sitting MLA from his former constituency Bhimsen Choudhury and is lobbying in Delhi to expel him from the party.

Delhi’s role has upstaged local leaders everywhere in the BJP. During the recent Assam Assembly elections, Varun—the election in-charge—had no say in the selection of candidates as Jaitley, the overall in-charge of Assam called the shots. Varun packed his bags to go off to Italy for his honeymoon rather than waste time playing second-fiddle.

MP Kabindra Purkayastha accuses the Central leadership of not building up the organisation in Assam. “Teamwork was missing and there is no consultation process between state and central leaders,” he says.

No more icons left

The satrap strife in the saffron party might end in the BJP squandering away a great opportunity to shape up as a credible alternative to the Congress, whose image has been battered by scams. It lacks a unifying figure like Vajpayee who stood tall above all controversy. In spite of respective coteries trying to drive a wedge between old friends, Vajpayee and Advani used to love watching films together. A BJP leader recalls them watching the movie Phir Subah Hogi, sometime in the late 1950s; the Jan Sangh had been trounced by the Congress in the second General Election.

Coming out of the cinema hall, Vajpayee joked, “phir subah hogi!” (dawn will come again!) It came briefly in 1977 when the Janata Party (with which the Jan Sangh had merged) rode the anti-Emergency wave and became part of Morarji Desai’s Cabinet. In 1996, the skyline lit up briefly when the BJP came to power as a minority government and again in 1998. A wish made in 1950 was fulfilled, and despite differences, Vajpayee and Advani had managed to bring the party to power at the Centre. One of the architects of the Janata Party coalition was Vajpayee. His stature ensured that a second attempt was successful 20 years later. Recalls BJP senior leader Vijay Kumar Malhotra, “It was Vajpayeeji’s idea of naming the conglomerate of parties as National Democratic Alliance, as he wanted to emulate Jan Sangh founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee who had formed the National Democratic Front in the First Lok Sabha in 1952 by cobbling together smaller parties and splinter groups.”

Satraps at war

Today, the BJP has formed splinter groups of its own. Asks a party leader, “Can anyone imagine Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley sitting together and watching a movie or sharing lunch, despite sitting in adjacent rooms in Parliament? They would rather hold separate get-togethers and invite journos for chit-chat and lunch but avoid each another, even though they are supposed to work in tandem on a daily basis, to ensure that the party-line is strictly followed in both the Houses of Parliament.” The animosity between Swaraj and Jaitley has led to several embarrassing moments for the party.

A debate on the CBI’s role in the Gujarat riots investigation was initiated by the BJP in the Rajya Sabha by Jaitley; but not in Lok Sabha since Swaraj dislikes Modi. On the controversial Indo-Pak Joint Statement in Sharm-el-Sheikh, the BJP took a belligerent stand and staged a walkout in the Lok Sabha; it stayed put in the Rajya Sabha.

On the Somali pirates issue, Jaitley avoided joining the BJP delegation to the PM’s residence led by Swaraj. On the controversial CVC appointment, after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admitted to goofing up on the floor of Parliament, Swaraj wanted it ignored and moved on but Jaitley said the matter should not end.

No new leaders

The BJP’s tragedy is that its senior leadership is trying to imitate the Gandhis by crushing state leaders, but they lack the charisma and electability of the ruling family. Beyond the current leadership that was created by Vajpayee and Advani, no BJP GenNext exists. The party has no presence in Haryana, has collapsed in Jammu and Kashmir, is a failure in Assam and West Bengal. Except in Karnataka, it is absent south of the Vindhyas. A failure to create a third generation leadership by insecure, power hungry leaders who are busy knifing each other in the back will be the party’s obituary after 2014.

The BJP now hopes to ride on the coattails of Team Anna and Baba Ramdev, seeking a piece of the limelight. BJP MP from Lucknow, Lalji Tandon, rubbishes the need for defensive action. “Neither Anna nor Ramdev are going to contest elections. We will be the ultimate beneficiaries,” he remarks.

He recalls how the Jan Sangh climbed on the JP bandwagon in the 1970s.

Today, the BJP’s engine has too many drivers. Whether it is Gadkari, Advani, Swaraj and Jaitley or Rajnath, all encourage their supporters in the states to keep rivals in check. In all likelihood, all this shadow boxing and strife will only lead to the party being checkmated all the way to 2014.

With inputs from Anil Gejji in Karnataka and Bijoy Pradhan in Orissa


Keeping Modi out

Exactly one year ago, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi was forced to take back Rs 5 crore given to Bihar as flood relief. That the BJP is a partner of Bihar’s ruling alliance, headed by Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), didn’t deter the secular-thanthou Kumar from returning the money. Not one senior BJP leader protested. It was left to BJP Spokesperson Nirmala Sitharam to say, “I wonder if only the money is being returned or also the feeling of empathy, solidarity and spirit of togetherness is being returned.” Modi was barred from campaigning for the BJP in Bihar. Also within the political minefield that is the BJP, there is little empathy for Modi.

“Modi’s magic and charisma have worked in Gujarat, but it is not necessary that everybody’s magic works at every place. Nitishji has put no condition before us. The decision on who should or should not campaign in Bihar has been the sole discretion of BJP.” Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj admitted the party wasn’t overtly bothered. Ironically, his own party has used the Gujarat riots as an excuse to keep its most popular mass leader from the national campaign trail. In the last Assembly polls, Modi campaigned only in Assam and West Bengal. Mainline BJP leaders who had campaigned in these states whisper the party’s poor showing in these states prove Modi’s charisma works only in Gujarat.

Immediately after the NDA’s defeat in 2004, the saffron politburo of Ashoka Road also blamed the riots for the fall.

With Atal Bihari Vajpayee in poor health, the BJP has no mass leader who combines charisma with administrative excellence. Lal Krishna Advani has been relegated to Bhishmapitamah status—more adept at apologising to Sonia Gandhi and praising Jinnah than being a votecatcher. Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu et al know of Modi’s ability to achieve what the BJP tried with Rath Yatras and Ram Janmabhoomi rhetoric— polarise the Hindu vote and return the party to power in 2014. So far, Modi has concentrated on Gujarat. He has proved that he is an efficient administrator, a grassroots leader and a chief executive who can bring billions of dollars as FDIs: in short, a blueprint of a prime minister-in -waiting. Modi is quietly preparing for a hat-trick in 2012. He cares little for Delhi visits unlike other BJP chief ministers, except to attend Planning Commission and National Development Council conclaves.

“Indeed, he is our tallest leader. He works hard and enthuses his subordinates to deliver.

A thoroughly honest person, he works in a transparent manner. He is seen as a strong leader, who will not compromise with either the interest of the state or the nation. It’s the reason, why enemies fear him and friends respect him,” remarks Balbir Punj, BJP incharge of Gujarat.

Clearly an astute mind is at work—one with prime ministerial ambition. At the BJP Chief Ministers’ Conference in Delhi in the heat of May, Modi left his undeclared rivals sweating.

He questioned the leadership’s silence on the Government misusing Constitutional institutions including the CBI, to target him in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case. Modi thundered that BJP MPs should raise these issues in Parliament, suggesting that they should not wait for Leader of Opposition Swaraj’s signal. Modi was upping the ante from Gandhinagar.

His work culture in the party and in the state seems like a plan to establish credentials for a bigger platform—a worry for many in the party. BJP General Secretary Jagat Prakash Nadda says, “When I was with the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), Narendra Modi was the in-charge. He remembers every task given to a BJYM worker, in the same sequence in which it was assigned, even after 20 days and asks for compliance reports.” As Chief Minister, Modi remains always unflappable. His message to the babus is clear: “Work has to be done. If you cannot manage, someone else will do it.” Many senior BJP leaders feel insecure that at party conclaves, it is Modi who draws the maximum applause from the workers, with nationalist rhetoric and acidic barbs against the Congress. This, perhaps, explains why many BJP bigwigs are busy building bridges with other political parties. Hoping the NDA does well in 2014, the jockeying for support for the prime post has begun—Jaitley is assiduously cultivating Kumar, while Swaraj goes about wooing Jayalalithaa.

At the BJP National Council meeting in Indore in February 2010, when BJP President Nitin Gadkari formally assumed charge, Modi tore apart the UPA Government’s policy on national security, wondering why it was in a hurry to resume a dialogue with Pakistan. “As a mature democracy, there is even greater need to talk to the principal opposition party.

Did they ever feel the need to talk to the BJP?” In the BJP, it seems, the need to talk to Modi isn’t apparent.

Modi's hits

■ Stable government; Modi is the longest-serving Chief Minister of the BJP

■ Consistently high economic and agricultural growth

■ No communal riots post-2002

■ Vibrant Gujarat summit attracts record investment which shows that Modi enjoys investors’ confidence

■ Administrative efficiency, modernisation

■ Gujarat, rated as best e-governed state, is set to usher in village-level e-governance

■ Swagat online grievance redressal that enables direct communication of citizens with CM besides steps like evening courts, Jyotigram electrification scheme, Kanya Kelavani Yojana have made Modi successful.

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